The $500,000 Illinois Derby (G3) at Hawthorne features a full field of 14, including three-based in the Free State: Pretension, Hakama and Done Talking. Local riders Javier Santiago, Julian Pimentel and Sheldon Russell will be aboard, respectively.
“He made a really nice move in the Gotham and got about two lengths away from Hansen at the top of the lane right before that one took off,” Grove said. “Edgar Prado rode him because Javier (Santiago) got sick in the jocks room that afternoon and told me he could have finished third but was riding to win the race. We got beat two noses for third.”
Grove indicated the colt would likely be pointed to the $1 million Preakness® Stakes (G1), the middle jewel of the Triple Crown, at Pimlico Race Course on May 19. The Frederick, MD native saddled Norman Asbjornson in last year’s race.
“I really think the experience helped make me educated on which races to pick to try to get graded money,” added Grove. “I really watched who was going where so we have a chance to get that graded money. We really didn’t want to run against Hansen again, the Florida Derby looked like it was going to come up tough and the Arkansas Derby was too far to go. This horse, in the morning, is as good as or better than Norman was a year ago at this same point so he is giving us confidence to travel down this road. The owner Mr. (Irving) Kidwell really wants to run in the Preakness. It would fulfill a life-long dream. If he happens to win Saturday, we might get Derby fever but the plan has been Preakness.”
Hakama’s owners Harry and Tom Meyerhoff have already lived the dream, winning the 1979 Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes with Spectacular Bid. Hakama (6-1) defeated Pretension in an optional claimer at Laurel Park on January 4 and was a solid second in the Private Terms at Laurel on St. Patrick’s Day.
The only off the board finish for the son of First Samurai, who is trained at the Fair Hill Training Center by Mike Trombetta, was a troubled sixth in the G3 Withers Stakes in early February. Trombetta used the Illinois Derby as a springboard to the Kentucky Derby and Preakness six years ago with Sweetnorthernsaint.
“The horse has just one blemish,” Trombetta said. “He just hasn’t broken through and run that big one yet. It is a wide-open race and worth taking a chance. I am hoping he will tell us he is ready for the Preakness. He has been close but we need him to take it to the next level. This is a different scenario because Sweetnorthernsaint had already run a 100 Beyer heading into this race. We need to see this guy improve by four or five lengths.”
Done Talking (20-1) finished in the money in his first four starts before off the board finishes in the G2 Remsen (November 26) and G3 Gotham (March 3). The Hamilton Smith trainee produced a bullet 5-furlong work at Laurel Park on March 24.
“He is very professional,” said Russell, who rode the son of Broken Vow to a score at Parx Racing in November. “He was very impressive that day and was very mature for his age. I have been aboard him in the morning and he is working lights out. The key will be getting a good trip from the outside post (13 of 14).”
Sagamore Farm’s Tiger Walk will represent the state in the $1 million Wood Memorial (G1) at Aqueduct. The Tale of the Cat offspring won a pair of races at Laurel Park last fall before solid finishes in the G3 Withers (third place) and G3 Gotham (fourth) to begin his 3-year-old campaign. John Velazquez will be aboard the Pimlico Race Course-based colt for trainer Ignacio Correas.
“He is facing the most difficult race of his career,” Correas said. “He is training really good and we have had some time to work on some things. Hopefully he responds and takes us to Kentucky. We feel he is sitting on a big race and that he will love the distance (1-1/8 miles).”
Correas will also saddle promising 3-year-old filly Millionreasonswhy in the G3 Comely Stakes on the Wood Memorial undercard. The daughter of Grand Slam won the Wide Country Stakes at Laurel on March 3 off a 6-1/2 month layoff. She is the 2-1 second choice.
“We were looking for a big effort in that race,” added Correas. “The race was very valuable to where we want to go (Kentucky Oaks). She is training unbelievably well and should not have any trouble with the one-mile distance.”
The $750,000 Santa Anita Derby (G1) includes three runners from the powerful Bob Baffert stable. Baffert has five Preakness wins on his resume, winning with Silver Charm (1997), Real Quiet (1998), Point Given (2001), War Emblem (2002) and Lookin At Lucky (2010).
The G1 Kentucky Derby is four weeks from Saturday on May 5. The Preakness (G1) is two weeks later at Pimlico with the Belmont Stakes (G1) set for June 9 at Belmont Park.